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Europe’s coal phase out is gathering momentum

An overview of European coal phase-out commitments.

It is an unfortunate side effect of the times in which we live: events that in any other circumstance would be big news, now barely cause a ripple.

On April 17, Austria became the second European country to phase out coal, with its last coal power station switched off. 

This news was followed just four days later by Sweden announcing that it too had closed its last coal power station. 

These are the first European countries to finish phasing out coal since Belgium in 2016.

Two wealthy, developed countries kicking the coal habit is big news. Austria has the 29th largest economy in the world and Sweden the 23rd largest (Belgium is 24th). And these countries will not be the last, with the list of former coal burning countries likely to get much longer in the next few years.

Of the 24 countries remaining in Europe that still burn coal*, 11 have pledged to stop burning coal by 2030. France has committed to getting off coal by 2022, Slovakia and Portugal in 2023 and the United Kingdom in 2024.

Add to those Italy, Ireland (both 2025), Greece (2028), Finland, the Netherlands (both 2029), Hungary and Denmark (both 2030), which will all be coal free within ten years.

Another three countries, (Spain, Czechia and (North) Macedonia) are all reviewing the future of their coal industries, with expectations that Spain and North Macedonia will adopt targets in line with the countries above.

Germany, the biggest coal burner in Europe, has pledged to go coal free by 2038, a target criticised by many for being too late (although mechanisms exist to bring this target forward by a few years).

With another 14 European countries already coal free**, that leaves nine countries still burning coal with no plans to phase out. Poland, the second biggest coal burner in Europe, is the last hold-out in northern Europe. The rest are all in south-eastern Europe and include most of the former members of Yugoslavia: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Kosovo, plus the much bigger Romania and Bulgaria.

Concerningly, some of these countries continue to have plans for new coal power stations, although it seems that every month or so a proposed coal project is cancelled. In particular, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia have plans for a number of new coal power stations that have either received development approval or are seeking approval.

It is now often accepted that it was inevitable that Europe was going to move on from coal but actually it was far from certain back in 2010 that Europe would be where it is today. 

Back at the start of 2014, no European countries had coal phase out policies. 

And despite the justifiable focus on China, the United States and India, European countries are still some of the biggest polluters in the world. Germany (6th), the United Kingdom (17th), Poland (18th), Italy (19th) and France (20th) are all in the top 20 most polluting countries in the world. In fact if you added up the emissions of these five nations as if they were one country, it would be the fourth most polluting country in the world (using 2018 data).

The contrast with Australia is stark. We have no national plan to phase out coal. And if left to the private sector, Australia will continue to burn coal until Queensland’s Millmerran coal power station shuts down – the owners have announced they plan to keep it open until 2051.

Most of the information in this post was sourced from Europe Beyond Coal. If you would like more detailed information on coal in Europe, look no further than Europe Beyond Coal. It is a wonderful resource, regularly updated. 

*This analysis is excluding Russia, Ukraine and Moldova due to poor data. Both Russia and Ukraine have large coal industries; Moldova I am not sure about.

**Belgium, Austria, Sweden and 11 other countries that have never had coal industries.

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